Covid-19 is sending 18-29 year olds back home to family

When the coronavirus shuttered the hospitality industry in March, Chicago bartender Garrett Collins moved back home to Edmond, Oklahoma, where he now lives with his parents and grandmother.

“When I first moved in, I felt pretty guilty,” Collins, 27, said. “I felt like I was very lucky and privileged in a way to have the ability to move back in with my parents. I felt guilty that I didn’t lock onto some career path that had made me able to look after myself on my own,” he said. “When I moved back in, I had this kinda shame.”

52 percent of people, ages 18 to 29, are now living with their parents due to the pandemic.

Collins might feel better to know his experience is part of the new normal. Across the country, the coronavirus has sent millions of young adults back into childhood bedrooms, altering family dynamics, and changing their life trajectories. It’s a dramatic sociological, and economic shift. A Pew Research Center report released this month found 52 percent of people, ages 18 to 29, are now living with their parents due to the pandemic. “The share of young adults living with their parents is higher than in any previous measurement (based on current surveys and decennial censuses). Before 2020, the highest measured value was in the 1940 census at the end of the Great Depression, when 48 percent of young adults lived with their parents,” the report explained.

Indeed, the shift could ultimately change the how we define adulthood, Michelle Janning, professor of sociology at Whitman College, said. “The criteria might change. There might be less emphasis on geographic independence to be an adult,” she told NBC News.

In Collins’ family home, three generations ended up under one roof: Collins’ 77-year-old grandmother Carol had moved in back in December. When Collins arrived three months later, he quickly butted heads with his grandmother, whom the family describes as a “far right Republican,” his mother, Cindy, said. “We just don’t talk about it,” Cindy, 57, said referring to politics. “It’s like a minefield walking around our house, trying not to upset everybody,” she said. “Our dinners are very quiet these days.”

But, sometimes, quiet wasn’t possible. At the beginning of the pandemic when President Trump held daily press briefings, Carol would insist the coronavirus was a “bad flu,” Cindy said. Collins, who has a biology degree from the University of Central Oklahoma, would implore his grandmother to take the virus seriously. “He has stayed home and away from his friends this whole time while she continues to sneak out of the house to have coffee and play cards with her friends,” Cindy said.

But while Collins and his mother have delicately navigated his grandmother’s politics, their relationship blossomed in other ways. The grandmother and grandson bonded over “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, baking cakes for the family, and she even tasted his oat milk, a beverage she had never come across before.

While Collins experienced growing pains, other adult children who have moved home, like Leah Gay, 28, found the transition home remarkably smooth.

In March, when the coronavirus shut down New York City, Gay was “getting very little social interaction” and “feeling isolated” by social distancing. So she left her Manhattan apartment and returned home to Blacksburg, Virginia. It was her first time living at home in 10 years. “I get my meals cooked for me. I have people to hang out with every night, so that’s awesome,” Gay, who works as a senior social media coordinator for a nonprofit, said. The pandemic has brought the family closer together.

Prior to the pandemic, Gay says, “I was coming home two to three times a year for a long weekend, so I see it as a blessing to be able to be with them for so long, when I don’t know when or if that would ever happen because I never lived close by.”

Last month, she terminated her $1,410/month Manhattan lease. “Paying New York rent when I don’t need to physically go into an office made no sense,” she said.

Gay may have had a choice to continue her lease or let that expense go. Others have been forced to make that decision. The pandemic has exacerbated existing economic problems with many of the demographic. “One of the responses,” for younger adults, “is to move home. In order to minimize the loss of lifetime earnings and opportunities,” Bill Rodgers, a Rutgers University economist, said. “[T]he parents act as insurance for those who can support it.”

Jack Fitzpatrick, 26, a social media consultant, moved home from Minneapolis to save money and be closer to his family in Marriottsville, Maryland. “I had two roommates. Now, I still have two roommates – they’re just my parents,” he said. But like Gay, since leaving his apartment at the end of August, Fitzpatrick said his family experienced minimal conflicts.

Sometimes the navigation is simply getting parents used to the idea that a visit home isn’t a vacation, but a new workspace. Kyra Littlejohn, 27, works in public relations. In June she left New York, where she had been living in Astoria, Queens, for Southfield, Michigan, to be with her mom, stepdad and grandma. Recently, she had to ask her family to keep the noise down when she was on a work call. Moving back was an adjustment for everyone, Littlejohn, who moved out five years ago, said. But she “wouldn’t have changed her decision at all to come back.”

Kyra Littlejohn, 27, with mom Andrea Johnson-Smith, 59, and grandma Ruth Love, 80. (Courtesy Kyra Littlejohn)
Kyra Littlejohn, 27, with mom Andrea Johnson-Smith, 59, and grandma Ruth Love, 80. (Courtesy Kyra Littlejohn)

Sometimes it’s just, well, awkward. Gay has taken up TikTok since moving back home, and her parents have walked in on her filming skits in her old prom dress, she said. “I heard my mom upstairs talking to my dad and saying ‘Leah’s filming some kind of video in her old prom dress?’ But they supported it and asked to see the TikTok when I was done,” she said.

Back in Oklahoma Collins, the former bartender, is taking prerequisite nursing classes both online and in-person, but he misses his Chicago friends and aspects of his old life. “It’s a big change, it’s a big difference,” he said. “Being with my family 24/7 has been a big transition.”

Janning, the Whitman college sociologist, notes we may see more shifts in how we perceive adulthood as a result of all these transitions.“I think there is going to be a context of forgiveness,” she said, “of acceptance of this weird new version of transition to adulthood that doesn’t have to include financial independence as much as it used to.”

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